This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached this morning, October 13, 2019. The gospel text was Luke 17:11-19.
Those ungrateful lepers. Jesus healed ten of them, and only one turned back to say “thank you.” It’s easy to look at this story, and focus on those nine ingrates. Even Jesus seems to focus on them, at least at first. “The other nine, where are they?” he said. It’s just rude. And so it would be easy to make this sermon about the importance of sending thank you notes. To talk about how God doesn’t like ungrateful people. But if that’s what we take from this story, then we find ourselves in one of two positions. Either we’re like the good leper, and we become proud of ourselves and a little smug for being so grateful to God for everything. Or we honestly recognize ourselves as one of the others, and feel terribly guilty that we don’t see everything around us as a blessing. Smug or guilty. And you know, I don’t think the Christian life is supposed to be about being smug or guilty.
So let’s look a little closer. What were those nine doing, after all? When Jesus asks: “The other nine, where are they?” Well, the answer is right in the text. Jesus told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priest.” That’s where they are. They’re doing what Jesus told them to do. They are obeying Jesus’ command, unlike this Samaritan, who disobeyed him by turning around and praising God. It’s almost as though Jesus doesn’t view obedience as the highest good. It’s almost as though he thinks praising God, worshiping God, is more important than following rules.
Did you ever notice that every week in worship, we say what our duty is as Christians? Every single Sunday. Or actually, I say it every week, or even more precisely, I chant it. Every week. It’s in the beginning of the communion liturgy:
The Lord be with you. And also with you.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, that we should at all times and in all places offer thanks and praise to you, almighty and merciful God.Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (c) 2006
Our duty, as we proclaim every week just before communion, our duty and our joy is to offer thanks and praise to God. That’s why we’re here. That’s what worship is all about. Fulfilling our duty, and fulfilling our joy, to offer thanks and praise to God. That’s why we’re here today, to offer thanks and praise to God.
Oh, some people come to worship to get something out of it. And sometimes we do get something out of it. But the truth is, if you’re looking for entertainment, there are much better places out there. If you’re looking to learn, you’d be better off coming to Sunday School or a Bible Study. If you’re looking for fellowship, sleep in and just show up at 11 for coffee hour. If you come here for my “outstanding” sermons, I post them all on my website and on Facebook. You can read them at your leisure. No, the truth is, we don’t worship in order to get something. We worship because we have already gotten so much.
We have received life, grace, salvation, peace, hope, joy, inspiration, guidance, love, all these things and more. And you don’t have to attend worship to receive them. They are God’s free gift, given to all. No, we come to worship to fulfill our duty to praise and thank God for all that we’ve been given. For the abundant and overflowing harvest that is all around us and in us.
We offer worship each week so that we all have the opportunity to fulfill that duty and joy. And giving thanks is a duty and joy, isn’t it? Think about it. Think about a time when someone did something very kind or generous for you. Didn’t it feel like it was your duty to thank them, that you had to show your thanks in one way or another. And at the same time, wasn’t it also a joy to give them thanks?
Have you noticed how full our narthex is of produce? With corn and onions and pumpkins and more? It’s quite a harvest! And it is for you. They are all for you, so please take them with you today. The person who has brought all these vegetables, the turnips and peppers and tomatoes and onions and corn and pumpkins, brought them here for you. And she told me why. She said, “This church gives so much – I wanted to give something to them.” It felt like a duty to her to do this, and at the same time a great joy. This is her way of saying “thank you.”
And for as much as we have given, God has given more. Far, far more. And God has gathered us here today with the opportunity to say, “Praise God! Thank you!” Someone once asked Martin Luther, “What, at its core, is Christian worship?” Luther is reported to have said, “The tenth leper returning.” Luke tells us, “then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He fell down at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” That’s worship.
That is why worship is participatory, why we’re not just here to listen to the pastor and the organ. We sing together, praising and thanking God. We speak together, praising and thanking God. That’s why we involve assisting ministers and acolytes and lay readers and communion assistants and ushers and greeters and choir members and more. Those roles are our way of praising and thanking God. That’s why we share our offering in worship. Giving cheerfully and generously of what God has given us is our way of praising and thanking God. That’s why some of us decorate this worship space so beautifully with each season. That’s our way of praising and thanking God.
And this is why my sermons very rarely talk about what we should or should not do. I don’t get into morals or discipline or obedience too much. I try to remind you each week of how much God has done for you, how much God loves you, how much God continues to give you each day, to inspire you to respond in thanksgiving and praise. Because I think that living a life filled with gratitude will move us to make the right decisions, for the right reasons. And I think, as this story tells us, that praising and thanking God is more important to Jesus than following rules. Maybe if we can do that, find ways to praise and thank God all day long, we’ll find surprising answers to the toughest questions.
It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, that we should at all times, and in all places, offer thanks and praise to God. For God has given us everything.